Skip to main content

Nancy Pelosi’s announcement that she’ll step down as the House Democrats’ top leader did not come as a surprise, but it does mark the end of an era. When the current lame-duck session expires, she will have been the Democrats’ leader for two decades — tying Sam Rayburn’s record for party leader longevity.

Pelosi held the Speakership during several of the most tumultuous eras in postwar America: the last two years of George W. Bush’s presidency and the first two years of Barack Obama’s, and again during the last two years of Donald Trump’s presidency and the first two of Joe Biden’s.

I had the privilege of working with her, and although I didn’t agree with her on everything she did or refused to do (I was disappointed at her initial resistance to a bill that would bar House members from actively trading in stocks, for example), she will go down as one of the most effective and forward-looking Speakers in American history.

At a time when America came as close as we’ve ever come to losing our democracy, Pelosi effectively beat back Trump, refusing to bow to his demands. (One of her most memorable public moments was ripping up Trump’s vacuous and hateful 2020 State of the Union Address in front of millions of American viewers.)

She led two successful efforts to impeach him (although the Senate shamefully failed to convict). She organized the January 6 committee, making sure it was bipartisan yet without it containing any Republican election-denier.

In July 2009, Pelosi convinced Barack Obama to try for the Affordable Care Act (something he would not have done absent her forceful advocacy) and in 2010 she got it through Congress — one of the most significant progressive achievements of the past two decades.

Anyone seeking further evidence of Nancy Pelosi’s extraordinary reign need look no further than the anger she stirred up on the Republican side.

No other Speaker in living memory has been so reviled by the Republican right. None has had as many threats on her life (including the attackers on January 6 and, tragically, the person who recently invaded her home and attacked her husband). Yet through it all she remained steady, level-headed, and practical (confirmed by the behind-the-scenes footage of legislative leaders during the January 6 attack on the Capitol).

If the House ever builds a fourth office building (as it has talked about since 1975), the building should be named after her. (The three current House office buildings are named after former Republican Speakers Joseph Gurney Cannon and Nicholas Longworth, and former Democratic Speaker Sam Rayburn.) I kind of like the sound of the Pelosi House Office Building.

With Pelosi no longer leading House Democrats starting in the next session of Congress, and Republicans in control, what can we expect?

Earlier this week I spoke with Rep. Ro Khanna, co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus. Ro was co-chair of Bernie Sanders’s 2016 campaign, and is one of the most thoughtful and articulate members of Congress (and already among those mentioned as possible Democratic candidates in 2024).

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

We spoke just before Republicans were declared to have taken back control of Congress, before Trump announced he was running again, and before Pelosi said she would no longer lead the Democrats, but our conversation assumed all these would occur.

We addressed several issues on the top of my mind (and probably yours):

— What’s next for Republican leadership in Congress? Will Kevin McCarthy be able to function as Speaker? What role will Mitch McConnell be playing?

— What can we realistically expect from the lame duck session?

— What can we expect from Congress over the next two years?

— Will Biden run again? Should he?

— Does Ron DeSantis have much of a future?

— Will Trump win the Republican nomination and how ugly will American politics get with Trump as the Republican nominee?

— What can and should all of us be doing to help get America back on track?

Please have a look.

Robert Reich